This was a really good result and much more interesting than the EDS game that followed it. If Everton won they'd be crowned u18s champions. They didn't - we beat them 1-0, gifting the title to Middlesborough. To be honest I thought we'd lose this given that results in the last few weeks had rendered this game a dead rubber for us. In fact since the league had split into two play-off tiers we'd lost four in a row and only picked up our first point last weekend away to Chelsea. It meant a lot to Everton too so credit must go to Jason Wilcox's men for this admittedly unexpected result. It was a fiery affair, but never over the top - two technical and tough teams both going toe to toe. It wasn't blessed with chances and it was mainly fought in the middle of the pitch, but it was entertaining nonetheless. Perhaps a draw would have been fair but you'd also have found it easy to argue that either side deserved a victory too.
We started with a much more balanced team than the EDS line up. We had Tattum and Vasi as the fullbacks and Charlie Oliver and Humphreys as the centre-back pairing. Nemane was over on the left with Fernandes on the right and the midfield three consisted of Marcus Wood, Diallo and Will Patching. Buckley was up top and Albinson between the sticks. I was really impressed with Diallo, only really young (fifteen I think) but he was composed and strong throughout. He's already a huge physical presence, but it was his touch and technique that stood out. He basically did a Yaya impression, sitting deep and dictating play, taking the ball from the centre-backs. Really, really good and an English lad too. Patching struggled a little early doors. I've seen him three or four times now at u18s level and he's found it a little tough each time, despite being highly rated at youth level. He did settle into the game though and he's clearly a very elegant player, but he's still finding his feet at this level as he's a little easily brushed off the ball at the moment - he's tall but waif like. Marcus Wood basically played exactly like Kean Bryan. Tough, strong and strode forward well. A battler with penchant for a Gareth Barry challenge, which is by no means a bad thing - he was a little sloppy in possession on occasion but still very strong up against a competitive Everton midfield.
Fernandes shone again. Some of the young foreign imports with high expectations have struggled to settle at City, Faour, Dilrosun and Kongolo in particular, but he's bucked that trend. He was easily our biggest threat. Such an elegant, skilful little player, darting about, popping up here and there. He only managed to isolate his marker on a couple of occasions, but both times he skipped past him with nonchalant ease. In the second half he briefly played behind the striker and he excelled there too - he's blessed with very good vision and quick feet so a long-term future there may be a possibility. Nemane was relatively quiet stationed out on the left, but he worked hard and scored the winning goal. I really like his habit of being in the right place at the right time which is a nice trait for any winger. It always irks me when wingers don't attack the back post from crosses from the opposite wing but he does - he's always there at the back post and he often gets his rewards. He did today - a sloppy bit of defending sent Buckley through on goal who showed good composure to take his time and pick Nemane out for the easy job of sliding the ball into the net. Buckley had a good game too. Perhaps he isn't blessed with exquisite technique, but he certainly adds to the team. He never stopped working giving the defenders a pretty tough time and he did well for the assist too, so no complaints here.
I thought defensively they were all good. I actually like Vasi at left-back - I've heard rumours that he may be moved on but they may be just that, because if so that'd be harsh. I've seen him twice, probably three times, not sure - but each time he's been solid defensively and bustled forward well. Tattum too is a good defender. Bucket loads of energy and its admirable. There was a couple of sloppy of moments for Oliver and Humphreys when passing out but they both played well. Oliver was responsible for some proper nitty gritty defending - the John Terry stuff, throwing himself into tackles and sticking tight to his man etc and its really notable now that Humphreys is one of the more experienced players in this team now. At one point he thought he momentarily turned into Desailly, strolling forward past 3 challenges…..before promptly running straight into a defender. He looks confident either way though and he's really developed this season. The difference from a few months back in his game is almost tangible and it bodes well. Charlie Albinson had a pretty easy game in goal. Couple of nice saves but not loads to do.
Lukas Nmecha and Luke Bolton both came on in the second half. Both under 16s, with Bolton only fifteen still I think. Either way both are still pretty new to this level and they impressed. It was the first time i'd seen either in the flesh and their confidence was striking. Nmecha came on for Patching in the second half, going up top with Buckley going out wide and Fernandes tucking in behind the striker. Bolton was a half-time sub for Nemane. I saw Bolton during the u16s tournament a couple of weeks ago, still available online here, and he played through the middle impressing with his strength and hold up play. He came on here out wide, his usual position apparently. He's tough. Very. He immediately impressed with his absolutely lung-bursting runs. He ran at the defence like a young Tevez. Fast, direct and bouncing off defenders. One run took him past two from deep inside his own half before he slightly overran it. He's obviously not quite the explosive talent that Tevez was at that age, but it was still an impressive cameo nonetheless. Nmecha was good too, technically proficient and with a very welcome instinct for heading straight towards the goal. He span away from defenders a couple of times driving straight at Everton's defence, causing problems and winning a few dangerous free-kicks. One took well by Fernandes that nearly found its way into the top corner.
Based on this performance you'd struggle to understand why our record in the past few weeks had been so bad but that's youth team football. I think some of the u16s are slowly getting to grips with the 18s. The leap in physicality from a player only fifteen years old to one eighteen can be absolutely huge at times so some naturally do struggle, but they'll be better for it next season. I presume there will be many more from the u16s making the step up to the 18s next season as the likes of Fernandes, Humphreys, Wood and Nemane find themselves involved with the EDS on a more frequent basis. I'm looking forward to it.